During one of our recent regularly scheduled Indy editorial staff meetings at our office in Corona del Mar, our fearless leader, Tom Johnson, popped his head in, looked at me with his classic Cheshire cat grin and said “Selich, I’ve got something right up your alley.”
After a few minutes of me trying to guess the assignment, he proceeded to tell me that he had been invited to participate in the official menu tasting for the upcoming Dec. 11 Hoag Foundation’s 552 Club’s Annual Christmas Carol Ball (try saying that 10 times fast!), but had a conflict and wondered if I could I go in his stead? And oh by the way, it was the next day.
My initial reaction was “What, do I look like Chris Trela?” I mean, he is our food and wine writer and it sounded like this story was more up his alley. But alas, after a quick phone call and a few emails, Chris (who was willing but had a conflict) couldn’t make the tasting. So with a few tweaks to my schedule, off I went the next day to the St. Regis Monarch Beach Resort, where I met up with Ilona Martin, 552 Club president; Dr. Lisa Karamardian and Pam Terry, who, with their husbands, are the event co-chairs; Stacey Sanchez, Hoag events staff member; Mary Castillo, 552 Club public relations; and Christina Mytinger from the St. Regis catering department.
Now, having chaired or co-chaired a charity event or two in my day, I understand how important the planning process is and what delicate details must be attended to in order to ensure an evening that feels magical, inspiring and inspired. When you step back from all the hullabaloo and excitement, it is mind-boggling the energy and resources required to make any fundraiser entertaining and successful.
On this day, the picking of the china, linens and flatware, along with the coup de grace of the visit, choosing the four-course menu, was the task at hand. Trying to determine what will agree most with an event’s audience is no small task, but I have to admit, it is an incredibly delicious and thoroughly satisfying experience – particularly when working with culinary talent such as Chef Frédéric Castan, executive chef of the St. Regis.
All total we had the pleasant (and filling) task of tasting three options for each course: soup, salad, entree and dessert. Needless to say, I didn’t go home and eat dinner that night.
While each choice was pure delight, what was really interesting about this particular tasting for me was Chef Castan’s explanation of each dish and his dedication to the use of organically grown, seasonal selections, many of which are purchased from local farms.
With more than 43 years in the business, Chef told us that he grew up in France on an independent, organic farm himself which taught him early on the value of sustainable farming and the quality of the produce found at like farms. He went on to explain that over 60 percent of the products used for the event’s meal will be organic, and while this raises the cost of the meals prepared in his kitchen slightly, the use of these quality products makes all the difference in the taste and nourishing attributes of his creations. Since this event being held in support of a great healthcare institution, the concept was not lost on me that keeping an eye on being healthful, even for a party, would be a priority.
The 552 Club’s event is one of Newport’s most anticipated of the year, and the decision to have it at the St. Regis was largely based on the fact that the hotel is one of the few along the coast capable of hosting a formal, sit-down affair for nearly 500 guests. Feeding that many people will require Chef Castan’s kitchen to prepare and cook to perfection over 160 pounds of both seafood and beef. The thought of the amount of talent it must take to get the timing right there makes my anxieties over Thanksgiving dinner pale in comparison.
As we lightly chatted our way through the tasting, we talked about why any of us dedicate the time and energy required to chair events. We all have our reasons, but co-chair Dr. Karamardian (whose mother-in-law happens to be Zov of Zov’s Bistro fame) had a unique perspective on her involvement. She said no matter what she needs, be it anything from supplies to technology, she can depend on Hoag making available to her every tool necessary to treat her patients to her highest ability, and that as a result she feels compelled to give back to the institution.
As the lovely afternoon wrapped up, I thanked everyone and turned my car north on Coast Highway for home. I kept thinking how this menu tasting made the coming event take on new meaning because I had a chance to get to meet those responsible for putting it on and the reasons behind why they are involved. It’s not just about throwing a spectacular party, the seeing and being seen, it’s really about giving back.
It’s about making a public statement of support, paying it forward and recognizing that without participation on many different levels by many people, organizations and causes will simply not garner the manpower and funds necessary to be sustained, much less thrive.
As for Hoag Foundation’s 552 Club’s Annual Christmas Carol Ball, I’ll be looking for our invitation in the mail!
Lynn Selich is a weekly columnist for the Indy, associate publisher of Newport Beach Magazine and society editor for both Firebrand Media, Inc. publications. She can be reached at [email protected].